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Attorney-client privilege limits DA's authority to review Scappoose records release appeal

Scappoose School Board members Lisa Maloney and Tim Brooks' effort to obtain copies of records they believe outline secret discussions held by other school board members that led to illegal decision-making has been sidelined by a determination from Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier, who last week stated that ordering release of the records is outside of his authority under state law.

In June, Brooks and Maloney filed a public records request to receive copies of emails between the district's legal counsel and members of the school board made in late March. Maloney said she and Brooks were attempting to find out how a majority of the school board reached a determination to extend a consulting contract to outgoing Interim Superintendent Paul Peterson, considering the board had not discussed the topic at any public meeting or in executive session.

AuxierMaloney obtained a copy of a contract for consulting work between then-board Chair Phil Lager and Peterson that was signed on March 25, months before the school board took any formal action in a public meeting. The only public vote taken by the board took place in June, nearly three months later, and the terms of the contract discussed at that meeting differed from the March contract.

The request to Auxier outlined which records were requested and how the district responded to the request made earlier this year. Maloney and Brooks asserted in their appeal to the District Attorney that a "contract was signed by SSD Board Chair Phil Lager on March 25, 2019 in excess of $35,000. There has been no public record or discloser (SIC) of how that was decided by Mr. Lager and five of the 7 members of the SSD Board."

BrooksDuring a school board meeting Aug. 12, the board held an executive session to discuss public records exempt from disclosure before reaching a 5-to-2 vote for the board to "retain our attorney-client privilege."

Brooks and Maloney voted in opposition.

Auxier stated in an Aug. 22 letter letter to Brooks and Maloney that he had corresponded with the district's legal counsel, Brian Hungerford, earlier in the month before making his ruling. Due to the vote of the public body to withhold the records on Aug. 12, Auxier noted that he could not rule to release the records.

Maloney"On Aug. 19, I was informed by Mr. Hungerford that the matter had been discussed in executive session and there was a vote in open session to assert attorney-client privilege over the documents in question. The vote was apparently 5-2 in favor of withholding the records from you," Auxier stated in his letter to Maloney and Brooks.

Auxier explained that, per state law, the district attorney has no jurisdiction to review an appeal "after a claim of right to withhold disclosure by an elected official."

To further challenge the board's withholding of the documents, Maloney and Brooks would have to file a circuit court appeal.

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